Your cervical spine connects your brain stem to your spinal cord. It is an area rich in blood vessels and other soft tissue, such as ligament and tendons. Neck pain is slightly less common than back pain, but no less important or treatable.
Common causes of neck pain include, but are not limited to:
- Cervical herniated disc.
- Cervical stenosis, which is caused by a herniated disc or degenerative joint, can cause pain to radiate down the arm, and lead to shooting pain and coordination problems in the arms and legs.
- Muscle strain degeneration of the facet joint cartilage.
- Osteoarthritis of weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees.
Neck pain is the most common complaint when suffering from whiplash. Often this pain goes across the shoulders, up into the head and then down between the shoulder blades. Whiplash injuries tend to affect the tissues in the neck, including the facet joint, discs, as well as the muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves.
The soreness you feel, generally on the back of the neck, often to the right or left of center, is due to facet joint pain. This pain is typically tender to the touch. When you have pain due to the facet joint, your physician will not be able to see it on an x-ray or MRI. Instead, your doctor will have to physically palpate the area to find the problem.
Disc injury tends to be the reason for chronic pain induced by whiplash. The outer wall of the disc (annulus) is made up of fibers that can easily be torn during a car accident. These tears lead to disc bulge, protrusion or herniation, which in turn, cause irritation and compression of the nerves running close to the disc. If left untreated, the disc damage as a result of the trauma which accelerates disc degeneration.
The immediate pain that you feel after a car accident is often due to damaged muscles and ligaments. This damage causes stiffness and restricted motion. As the muscles heal, the pain lessens. However, the restricted movement may continue. Damage to the ligaments often results in abnormal movement and instability. If not treated properly the damaged tissue does not heal, but becomes scar tissue, which leads to chronic pain.
A sprain of the muscles, ligaments, or tendons in the neck area usually causes acute neck pain. Vehicular accidents, repeated carrying of heavy items (such as luggage), or awkward sleeping positions are often the culprits. Most minor ligament or tendon injuries in the neck will subside with proper care, including rest, ice or heat application, and rehabilitation such as chiropractic care and physical therapy.
One common symptom of chronic neck pain is an ache that radiates down the arm, sometimes into the hands and fingers, accompanied by numbness or tingling. Foraminal stenosis, a condition caused by degenerative changes in the neck joints, involves a herniated disc or a pinched nerve. This in turn causes chronic neck pain.